Side Notes: A Chef’s Guide to Side Dishes

Uday Huja shares tips on how to elevate your meal with the perfect choice of side dish.

In the modern age of dining, there are no rules. Or at least, that is the case according to Nineteen at The Star Executive Chef Uday Huja. Gone are the days of formulaic three-course ordering. These days, the menu is a choose-your-own-adventure of elements to fit together at your pleasure.

One of the traditionally overlooked items is the side dish. Not just a sidekick to the main dish, these smaller bites can add variety to a table, bring out the flavours in the other players, or even be used as building blocks to create a meal in their own right.

We say it’s time to stop under-estimating the humble side dish. Below, Uday explains why and how they can become the heroes.

Let’s start at the beginning: what is a side dish, and how is it different from a main meal?

Today it is not the same as it used to be. We find people’s eating habits and attitudes towards menu offerings have changed. Guest do not feel limited to the classic idea of ordering an entree and a main course; they’re building their meal from across all categories of the menu. We often have guests order a variety of sides as a main course or several for the table to boost the variety of their dining experience. 

What should side dishes bring to the table? 

Exciting flavours, contemporary presentation, and ability to address dietary requirements.

What are the rules for choosing a side dish to complement the main course?

No rules apply anymore. If you are preparing a composed, plated dish, and if you are looking to have complementary flavours for the main item, there should be one main voice to a dish. The rest of the players are there in support.

What are some iconic side-main pairings?

The number one selling side all over the world is French fries, hands down. It does not matter whether you are in a fine dining or casual restaurant, it will be number one and the most profitable. The thing with French fries is, across all cultures, everyone gets it. Basically everyone eats potatoes and feels safe ordering them. 

What is a side dish you could easily eat as a main meal?

I love a potato au gratin (or potato bake, as it’s known here in Australia). Rich cream, a pinch of nutmeg  and potatoes slowly baked until they are bubbling and crusty: this is irresistible to me. Served with a vinegary salad and I am sorted. 

Could you share a recipe with us for one of your favourite side dishes?

At Nineteen at The Star we serve Brussels sprouts that are cooked until they get crispy and crunchy, dress them with vinaigrette, capers and shallots, and finely grate some fontina cheese on top. They are absolutely delicious and one of our guests’ favourite items.